Favorite

The gold still rules in the Arkansas legislature 

I try to get excited about the 2014 constitutional amendment proposal forged by the Regnat Populist ethics reform group and the legislature. It's hard.

The proposal won legislative approval because 1) it creates a mechanism for legislative pay raises protected from political blowback; 2) it allows legislators to serve longer, and 3) it gives constitutional protection to free meals for legislative groups and for junkets. The positives?

Individual gifts by lobbyists will be prohibited, if not group wining and dining. Legislators must wait two years, rather than a year, to be a lobbyist. But there's nothing to prevent them from being special interest-paid governmental relations experts as long as they don't directly work on legislation.

Finally, the amendment does prohibit direct corporate contributions to political campaigns. A reduction in corporate contributions — if the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately doesn't nullify such laws — isn't a bad thing. But contributions to PACs and by PACs are untouched and that's a pretty big exception.

The Democrat-Gazette, for example, pored over contribution records recently and found 13 lawmakers had taken contributions during the supposed contribution blackout period 30 days before a legislative session. There were varying excuses.

Forget the blackout rule and look at simple political decency. These are politicians who were at least 18 months away from an election when contributions were made. None had a demonstrable need for the money. And there it came. It was mostly corporate money, but a big chunk of it came from PACs, which won't be a bit restricted by the amendment.

Consider Republican Sen. Ron Caldwell of Wynne. He raked in more than $30,000 on Dec. 20, including some $10,000 from the PACs of Southwestern Energy, the Arkansas Health Care Association, the Go Eddie Joe PAC (a vehicle by which Sen. Eddie Joe Williams rounds up corporate money to pass out to needy colleagues), the Arkansas Dental PAC, the Hospital Association and the Community Health Centers PAC. All this special interest money and Caldwell doesn't have to run for re-election until 2016. If the "ethics" amendment passes, looks like he can still count on plenty of corporate money, laundered through PACs, presuming they like his voting record. I'm betting they will.

Generally speaking, you don't find a lot of corporate money in a vast number of legislative races, though a little can go a long way. But, you might argue, the removal of corporate money could be very important in statewide races for governor and other powerful positions, such as attorney general and treasurer.

True. But this new restriction, some believe, will only encourage a worse form of corporate influence peddling — independent expenditures. Increasingly, the independent money is coming through 501c4 organizations that enjoy special tax status, but can spend unlimited amounts on "education" and even some direct advocacy without ever disclosing where the money is coming from. By shutting off the flow of transparent direct corporate contributions, some critics say, the state will only encourage a redirection of unaccounted money to "dark money" expenditures.

I expect huge sums of independent money to be spent in 2014 to elect corporate-friendly Supreme Court justices. Look for it also to be spent to defeat Republican Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson. He derailed the business lobby's tort reform amendment in support of his financial benefactor John Goodson, a wildly successful Texarkana trial lawyer. Rep. Ann Clemmer will be a collateral beneficiary in running against Hutchinson. She'll get corporate money, too, by PACs or otherwise.

Money, like water, always finds an outlet. That's the chief reason it's hard for me to become too enthusiastic about the so-called ethics amendment.

Favorite

From the ArkTimes store

Speaking of...

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

People who saved…

Readers also liked…

  • Bootstraps for me, not thee

    Mean spirit, hypocrisy and misinformation abound among the rump minority threatening to wreck state government rather than allow passage of the state Medicaid appropriation if it continues to include the Obamacare-funded expansion of health insurance coverage for working poor.
    • Apr 14, 2016
  • Trump: The Obama of 2016?

    Conner Eldridge, the Democratic challenger to incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. John Boozman, launched an assault on Boozman Monday morning rich with irony and opportunity.
    • May 5, 2016
  • Double-talk

    A couple of instances of doublespeak cropped up in Little Rock over the weekend.
    • Jun 29, 2017

Most Shared

Latest in Max Brantley

  • Football for UA Little Rock

    Andrew Rogerson, the new chancellor at UA Little Rock, has decided to study the cost of starting a major college football team on campus (plus a marching band). Technically, it would be a revival of football, dropped more than 60 years ago when the school was a junior college.
    • Jul 20, 2017
  • We're No. 1! in vote suppression

    It's not often that Arkansas can claim national leadership, so give Secretary of State Mark Martin credit for something.

    • Jul 13, 2017
  • Bangin' in LR

    About 2:30 a.m. Saturday, with the Power Ultra Lounge downtown jammed for a rap show by Finese2Tymes (Ricky Hampton of Memphis), gunfire broke out. Before it was over, 25 people had been wounded by gunfire and three others injured in the rush for safety.
    • Jul 6, 2017
  • More »

Event Calendar

« »

July

S M T W T F S
  1
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31  

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Another Jesus

    • Sorry, I have never written about Hillary Clinton's "blunders" in Benghazi. Since you call them…

    • on July 25, 2017
  • Re: Another Jesus

    • IBS, were you there in Benghazi to personally witness all of Hillary's blunders like you…

    • on July 23, 2017
  • Re: Another Jesus

    • If God felt it necessary to replace the ten commandments, he could do it like…

    • on July 23, 2017
 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation